Friday, June 20, 2008

The Bakken Formation of Montana and North Dakota: Is It The Answer To Our Energy Needs?

It sounds to me as if the amount of oil recoverable from the Bakken has been greatly exagerated. Based on some knowledge of technology, geology, the oil industry, the USGS, and the kind of hype by people selling investment "advice", especially on the internet, I tend to believe the basic premise of this report. There is a lot of oil in the Bakken Formation, and some of it is economically recoverable with relatively new horizontal drilling and rock fracturing technology. Any oil, anywhere, is very attractive at today's $130 per barrel price. Even if the USGS "estimates" are correct, and you can be sure that is what they are, a best guess, 4 Billion barrels of recoverable oil is very significant. It is 40% of what was initially thought to be recoverable from the Prudhoe Bay Field on Alaska's North Slope, which is the largest oil field ever found in North America. Of course the Bakken Formation is not one simple oil field. It is primarily a layer of shale rock spread over a huge area, with many, many wells needed to produce that much oil. The Bakken Formation is not going to be a panacea for our energy crisis. There is one other article on this blog dealing with the Bakken Formation, see here Peak Oil? An Example Of How Technology "Discovers" More Oil

U.S. Says 400-Billion Barrel Bakken Oil Field a 'Myth'
By Keriann Hopkins Correspondent June 18, 2008 ( - source

Reports circulating on the Internet tell of an oil field spanning parts of western North Dakota and eastern Montana where 400 billion barrels of oil supposedly are just waiting to be tapped. However, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) tells Cybercast News Service that those huge estimates are "a myth."A USGS report issued in April estimates that there are between 3 billion to 4.3 billion barrels of oil in what is referred to as "the Bakken Formation" -- well below the 400 billion barrels discussed on the Web, but up from the previous estimate of 151 million barrels made in 1995.

Richard Pollastro, Bakken Formation task leader at the USGS, said the myth stems from a 1999 draft report -- never published -- by a now-deceased USGS employee, Leigh Price. Price estimated that the Bakken Formation holds up to 400 billion barrels of oil. To put that in perspective, Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, has about 260 billion barrels of known oil reserves. Price, however, died in 2000, before his study could be peer-reviewed and published, and the Bakken Formation became the fool's gold of the oil industry. "Unfortunately, in many instances, we are still trying to explain and defend our assessment versus the inappropriate and irresponsible posting of Dr. Price's 'draft report,'" Pollastro told Cybercast News Service.

According to Jonathon Kolak, a USGS scientist and information specialist, the discrepancy between Price's 1999 estimates and the agency's 2008 findings arises from the fact that Price was trying to assess the "oil generation potential" of the oil found in the pores of rocks and shale in the Bakken field, as well as the total content of how much oil might be pooling up - or "oil in place.""What Dr. Price was looking at was 'oil generation potential,' and then, from that, trying to make an estimate of 'oil in place,'" said Kolak. "Those terms are very distinct from 'undiscovered technically recoverable resources.'" The latest study, which was commissioned by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), is an estimate of how much "technically recoverable" oil and gas is available -- i.e, how much oil can actually be recovered using today's technology.

Kolas also explained that the 25-fold increase between the 1995 estimates and the 2008 assessment is due to two factors: an improved understanding of the geology and advances in drilling technology. "Our understanding of the geology improved significantly because of the time difference between the studies," he said. "There has been some drilling since then, there has been a lot more information that has come out, other people have conducted studies, and also USGS researchers have conducted studies. "Moreover, drillers are utilizing directional drilling in the Bakken fields, a way of drilling at an angle to tap previously unrecoverable reservoirs.

"If you've been out to western North Dakota, you don't need a USGS report to know that there's oil there because you can see from all the drilling activity that there's a lot of energy development going on in western North Dakota," Dorgan spokesman Justin Kitch told Cybercast News Service . Kitch admits that comparing Price's 1999 study to the April USGS study is like comparing "apples and oranges. "But certainly it's nice to have an up-to-date assessment of the amount of oil that's technically recoverable in the Bakken," he said.

In 2006, Marathon Oil bought 200,000 acres in the Bakken to drill over 300 wells. This past May, after the report was released, Texas-based XTO Energy bought 352,000 net acres in the Bakken Shale for $1.9 billion. The federal government, meanwhile, said only a small proportion of the oil available with today's technology is economically viable for recovery. "If you're drilling the Bakken, it's pretty easy to drill somewhere in there and at least see some oil, but the question is: Is there enough there to get out and actually be economically recoverable?" Kolak asked. At the end of 2007, about 105 million barrels of oil had been produced from the Bakken Formation. The USGS, meanwhile, considers any release or dissemination of Price's unpublished report to be "inappropriate and irresponsible."


Jane said...

There’s some oil to be gotten out of Bakken, and it’s going to be exploited. But the idea of a bonanza is nothing but hype. Find the facts and figures about US Geological Survey's Bakken estimates at

Peter said...

I agree, there is always a lot of exxageration coming from those with something to sell.

On the other hand, USGS reserve estimates are notoriously conservative, low and inaccurate. They're always workig with old or limited data.